Today is Ash Wednesday, the commencement of Lent, when people talk about what they’re “giving up.” I was inspired this week to consider a different spiritual practice—giving way, rather than giving up. This invitation came through reading a vivid portrait of the paschal mystery illustrated in the lifecycle of the forest. Here’s the quote from “Braided Sweetgrass,” written by botanist and Native American Robin Wall Kimmerer. I encourage you to read it slowly, a few times, and allow it to speak to you.
“I take my guidance from the forests, who teach us something about change. The forces of creation and destruction are so tightly linked that sometimes we can’t tell where one begins and the other leaves off. A long-lived overstory can dominate the forest for generations, setting the ecological conditions for its own thriving while suppressing others by exploiting all the resources with a self-serving dominance. But all the while it sets the stage for what happens next and something always happens that is more powerful than that overstory: a fire, a windstorm, a disease. Eventually, the old forest is disrupted and replaced by the understory, by the buried seedbank that has been readying itself for this moment of transformation and renewal. A whole new ecosystem rises to replace that which no longer works in a changed world.”
The paschal mystery illustrated in the forest is that from disruption and death come transformation and life. While the tall canopy (overstory) of trees appears triumphant and uncontested, “something always happens” to challenge its dominance, one characterized by self-serving exploitation. Whether through fire, wind, or disease, the old forest dies. At first, it’s a tragedy. Yet, as is often the case within the natural and spiritual world, from death comes life.
The forest floor gives way to the “buried seedbank that has been readying itself for this moment of transformation and renewal.” Wow! That’s the potent phrase that grasped my attention this week in preparation for Lent and is asking of me some deep, vulnerable questions:
· Where do I identify activities that exploit or consume too many resources of my life and energy?
· Where do I notice disruption or death to once dominating efforts that have occupied my life?
· How might I give way, create space, for the buried seedbank of new life to sprout and grow?
This is such a fertile vision for me of the paschal mystery that we live into during this season. I hope it might supply your own imagination with ways that you, too, can consider “giving way rather than giving up.” This last year has certainly disrupted the overstory of our lives and we’ve experienced death. What if this dying is giving way for seeds of new life to spring forth? May it be so!